Permanent Ink (Something to Celebrate #1)

Table of Contents

Blair Whitaker has one goal: get the hell out of Celebration, NY. Her ticket out is helping the town take the grand prize in a parade contest, which will ensure she lands her dream job. It’s a win-win.

Standing in the way is Ben Lambert, a sexy, local tattoo artist whose smile makes her weak. To win the contest, she’ll have to sideline his plans for the tattoo festival the town council allowed on the same weekend. But trying to thwart Ben is more than she bargained for, and before she knows it, she’s starting to see Celebration—and Ben—as something more than a temporary distraction.

But Blair’s in too deep to change directions now. Celebration is behind the parade contest, the mayor revokes the tattoo festival permit, and Blair is on the cusp of getting everything she’d planned. But coming clean will turn Ben against her for good, and going forward means losing what she really wants and hurting the town she’s grown to love.

Permanent Ink

A Something to Celebrate Novel

Laura Simcox

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Laura Simcox. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Edge is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Lewis Pollak

Cover design by Heather Howland

ISBN 978-1-63375-053-1

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition August 2014

Halfway through writing Permanent Ink, I fell down in a grocery store parking lot and broke my foot. My typing fingers weren’t affected, but I found out very quickly how time-sucking it is to take care of a four-year-old when you’re on crutches. My husband, family, and friends helped me without complaint for weeks, and as a result, I had the time to finish this book.

I dedicate it to all of you and promise to walk carefully in the future.

Thank you!

Chapter One

Something told Blair Whitaker that a fresh start shouldn’t smell like diesel fuel and jelly beans, but she chose to ignore the warning bells in her head and focused instead on staying alive. Adjusting the heavy rhinestone crown on her head, she held on to the sides of her folding chair for dear life as the parade float jerked into motion.

“You okay up there?”

Blair glanced over her shoulder and down at the skinny, skater-punk kid who was ogling her from the safety of the ground. “Yes,” she managed, and tugged on the “Finger Lakes Easter Queen” sash that fit snugly over her breasts. The
real
queen had a lot of explaining to do and as soon as Blair could get off this float she would wring the girl’s neck. The satin sash popped back up over a breast for what had to be the tenth time, and Blair gave up her tugging and left it there.

Blair looked down at the ragged box with the words “Mighty Fine Toilet Paper” printed on the sides and filled with bags of assorted candy. Okay. So she was supposed to throw mini-Snickers at kids? What if she hit them in the face or something?

“Um…?” She glanced to either side of the float and caught the eye of a middle-aged woman, who began jogging down the sidewalk.

“Throw it underhanded, honey. And thank you
so
much. Don’t forget to wave! Turn your head slowly so you don’t get dizzy! We don’t want a queen with vertigo!”

Blair gave her a thumbs-up, but couldn’t help a rueful grin. She
was
a queen—the queen of bad luck, and it had nagged her for too long. It was time to kick her own ass into gear and ignore luck altogether. And she was going to start by figuring out her life, right here in Celebration, by moving in with relatives. Sigh.

For now, though, she was stuck, because her lease had run out on her teensy Manhattan apartment, and she hadn’t signed a new one. Instead, she’d sold all of her furniture and left the place like the Grinch who stole Christmas. Except Blair hadn’t stolen anything but a burgeoning sense that she’d made a huge effing mistake. It wasn’t like her to make such rash decisions. What did she think she was going to
do
here, anyway? Besides masquerading as a pageant queen, that is?

But once she figured it out?

She was leaving this Podunk place.

For God’s sake, she hadn’t even made it to Celebration’s city-limits sign when everything had gone to hell in a handbasket. Or an Easter basket, as the case may be. Thanks to a tangled road block of parade floats, she’d been forced to pull over and had barely walked a few yards away from her van when a pop-eyed guy in a matted bunny suit, sans head, had approached with a gaggle of women in mom jeans and told her she was a dead ringer for the Finger Lakes Easter queen, who had suddenly taken ill and was resting in the bed of a pickup truck. Would Blair stand in for her?

All weirdness aside, and that had certainly qualified as
weird
, Blair saw the request as a sign from the universe. Especially when she’d peered into the truck and been totally shocked. Kaley, Blair’s little cousin (who at sixteen,
definitely
didn’t look like a little kid anymore) lay giggling, her crown askew. What else could Blair do except untangle the crown from Kaley’s curls and cram it on her own head? She always came through in a pinch. Reliable Blair.

As the driver swerved around a pothole, she sucked in a breath. “Jesus,” she muttered.

Maybe the parade route would be mercifully short—from what Aunt Lola had said, Celebration was a tiny town. Blair hoped so, because she was already starting to feel kind of dizzy. Holding tight to the chair, she waved to the sparse crowd on either side of Main Street. They waved back, but several of them looked confused.

And no wonder. She didn’t feel like a beauty queen any more than she looked like one. She was organized, dependable, and kept an obsessive to-do list. What kind of flighty pageant princess did that? Blair smiled at them anyway, despite the fact that it was obvious she was a decade too old to be a high school beauty queen, was wearing jeans and clogs instead of a slinky prom dress, and had her purse looped around one ankle so that it didn’t slide off the float. She made a very strange beauty queen indeed. But she held her head up high and continued to wave, until a big gust of chilly wind made her teeth ache and her eyes water.

Okay, this was officially stupid.

She heard resounding cheers as the small processions of floats slowed to turn the corner. Suddenly, the sidewalks seemed a lot more crowded. Little kids held Easter baskets and most everyone was bundled against the sharp wind. The three floats in front of hers had already begun to roll down a side street, and at the head of the procession in a shiny white convertible, a young blond woman stood and waved. The crowd cheered even louder.

Blair pushed a lock of hair away from her eyes and leaned forward to read the sign on the side of the convertible—
Ivy Callahan, Mayor of Celebration.

“Really?” Blair murmured to herself. The woman was probably around Blair’s age. “That’s…wow. Good for her.” Bet she didn’t live out of a rental van.

The wind whipped up again and the crown tilted sideways. She reached up to adjust it and scanned the sides of the road for her aunt’s familiar fire-engine-red head. Lola had gone gray before Blair was born, but she relied on L’Oreal to keep her signature color, which Blair had inherited and most of the time, loved. Except for the times that people assumed she was a firebrand because of her wild red hair. And when they found out that she wasn’t the human version of the girl from
Brave
, they seemed strangely disappointed.

Blair had gotten to the point where she didn’t care. Like now. Throwing a hand into the air, she waved enthusiastically at the kids on the side of the road.

“Happy Easter, kids!”

Most of them giggled, but a little girl wearing a shiny purple ski coat stared at her in dismay. She blinked a couple of times and then gazed pitifully up at her mom, who in turn gave Blair a stony look. The mom cupped her hands over her mouth and yelled.

“Where’s your pageant gown? My daughter came to see the gown!”

Blair shrugged and managed an apologetic grimace. The woman didn’t buy it.

Oh. Blair was supposed to have thrown candy, wasn’t she? Okay. She reached into the toilet-paper box, ripped open a bag, and gently tossed a handful of jawbreakers toward the sidewalk.

The woman shook her head in disgust. “What kind of queen doesn’t wear her gown? You’re disrespecting the parade, Miss Finger Lakes. What did the Easter parade ever do to
you
?”

Huh?

Blair answered the only way she could—with a brilliant smile and a wave, and within a minute, the float had rolled past the still-grumbling woman.

Jesus. Was this town crazy or what? Maybe it was a fluke occurrence or…maybe not.

Because as the float proceeded past a park and then turned left back up the other side, Blair gaped at the buildings on her right. The steps of the city hall were crammed full of Easter baskets and looked like a cascading river of pastel. Pastel streamers were everywhere, and the businesses lining the street? A doughnut shop with a big fat pig on the sign. A pet-grooming studio…cats preferred? Still waving and throwing candy, she looked farther down the street at a collection of huge nutcrackers sitting in front of a store called Christmas Crazies. And next to it stood a shop that looked to be a day spa, since the name was Skinnovations, but there was a scary-looking skull and crossbones etched onto the front window. Um…okay? What the hell kind of town was this and why had elegant, cultured Aunt Lola chosen to
move
here?

Up ahead and to her left, a frumpy woman stepped out of a group of people gathered at the edge of the park. Blair stared at her for a few seconds, frowning, and then recognition struck.

Oh.
Oh, wow.
Lola.
Wearing…a sweatshirt and jeans? She’d put a good twenty pounds onto her thin frame and her red hair was pretty much gone, cut into a pixie style, which Blair had to admit looked cute. But still. Had Lola gone
crazy
up here in Celebration?

Their eyes met, and Lola froze. Her mouth moved and although Blair couldn’t hear her, she knew what Lola had said.
“Good heavens.”

Blair stared back, trying to smile. “I can explain,” she shouted. “Kaley’s fine, though.” Lola nodded back, a strange smile on her face. “Meet me at my house after the parade,” she called out as the float rolled past.

“I’ll find it!” Blair gave her one last wave and turned around as the float passed a gleaming white gazebo decked out in strings of Easter-egg lights. The pop-eyed bunny from thirty minutes ago stood under the bright red-shingled roof, this time with his furry head on. He shot Blair the peace sign. She shot it back. Why not? The bunny gave a shimmy. Blair smiled and did an awkward little dance in her chair. The crowd seemed to like it, so Blair added some disco arms and was rewarded with a burst of laughter. This wasn’t so bad. It was kind of fun, actually…until there was a collective intake of breath from the crowd up ahead.

“Hit the decks!” screeched a woman. The people around her froze, staring up at the sky. Two second later, they ducked, covering their heads.

That’s when a giant papier-mâché Easter chick broke loose from a wire above the street and bounced off the 4-H float in front of Blair and then landed on the pageant float, rolling at breakneck speed toward where she sat.

“Jesus H!” she shrieked, trying to get behind her chair. She didn’t make it. The chick smacked squarely into her chest, knocked her on her ass, and lodged between her thighs. Blair felt one of her clogs fly off and she lifted her head away from a face full of spray-painted paper to watch as the shoe landed in the street. It rolled over a few times and was promptly run over by the wheel of a fire truck.

“What the hell just happened?” Blair blinked, light-headed from the fumes of spray paint emanating in waves from the giant, dented chick between her legs. She shoved the yellow thing out of the way and it bounced into the street with a loud
crack
, its head flopping to the side. The pageant float jerked to a stop and a collective gasp went up from the people on the sidewalks.

“You killed the Easter chick!” wailed a little girl who couldn’t have been more than four. She began to cry.

Oh, no. Not that. She’d made a kid
cry
?

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I…just a second.”

Blair reached into her hair where the crown was hanging from a long strand. She untangled it and crawled to the edge of the float. She stood, lopsided without her shoe.

The street looked really far away. “Good karma, good karma, good karma,” Blair chanted in a whisper. “Everything will turn around soon. It
has
to, after today.”

But when she glanced at the crowd, it didn’t seem like anything was going to turn around soon. It actually seemed like there was going to be a witch hunt—and she was the one about to get burned at the stake.

“It was an accident,” she said numbly. “I’m sure the chick can be fixed, right?”

The answering angry mutters wiped the hopeful smile from her face and she sat down, dangling her feet over the edge. “Okay then. Time to get the hell out of here.”

A middle-aged man, short and tubby, with two cameras looped over his neck, stepped forward. “What did you say, miss?”

“Just talking to myself. Figuring out if I feel like jumping or not,” Blair answered.

The man adjusted his cameras and stood directly under her. “I’ll help.” He strained his arms upward, his fingers spread. “Come on, then,” he said.

She smiled gratefully at him. “Just a sec. This is going to be a little tricky with only one shoe.”

“Take your time.” He withdrew his hands.

She surveyed the ground one more time, slipped her purse strap over her queen’s sash, and blew out a breath. “Okay, here goes.”

Closing her eyes, she reached for the man’s hands. They were surprisingly warm and strong and didn’t feel at all like…she cracked open an eye and stared at the hands. They weren’t pudgy. Or small. They weren’t even his. “What the—”

A deep chuckle sounded and Blair found herself staring down at a completely different man altogether. This man stared right back, his firm-looking lips curving into a half smile. Her breath caught, and she couldn’t seem to blink.

His
eyes
. She was transfixed. They were a deep, soulful brown and ringed by lashes any woman would be jealous to have. When his smile widened, those eyes crinkled at the corners.
Oh.
Blair found herself smiling back.

“Um…” she said. No other words would come out of her mouth because he was
that
gorgeous. But dangerous-looking, really. Shoulder-length hair. His beard? Like a sexy pirate. And his thermal shirt? Plastered to that hard wall of a chest. Her heart sped up, and she broke eye contact, only to glance back, still speechless.

Guys like him didn’t stare at her. But this one did. He still was.

His smile turned into a grin, and he released one of her hands. Reaching for the back pocket of some incredible-fitting jeans, he pulled out her shoe. And yeah, it was mangled, but right now she didn’t really care. “May I?” he asked, gesturing toward her socked foot.

“Um…” she repeated. “Yeah, sure.” She watched in fascination as he clasped her ankle and gently pushed the scuffed, stained clog onto her foot.

“There,” he said in a voice as deep as his chuckle.

And right then, the little pudgy man stepped forward and snapped a photo.

“Got it!” he crowed. “Cinderella and her prince. The best front-page parade picture ever.” He did a little jig. “And that’s why the
Celebration Crier
pays me the big bucks.”

As the gathered crowd let out a begrudging laugh, Blair turned her attention back to Sexy Pirate, who still held onto her foot. She willed her voice not to be breathy. “A little help?”

He reached up and placed his hands around her waist. “My pleasure, princess.”

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